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Friday, 30 July 2010

Beer Festival. This Time It's Personal.

A lighthearted look at beer festival warfare.

It’s important to have a game plan. Always. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. There’s a certain charm about the reckless Kamikaze who throws caution to the wind, goes out all guns blazing and just drinks what the hell he or she wants, when the hell he or she wants to. But you’d never do that yourself, there’s too much good beer to miss, too many opportunities that must be taken, you’ve seen that person on the wrong side of 7pm one too many times before.

It’s important to remember that you’re not in this alone. Bottled water and gut-lining food are your wingmen, they’ve got your back, just so long as you remember to keep them with you at all times and use them whenever you can.

Divide the task into more manageable chunks and attack group by group. First you must take on the rarities, those beers that may never cross your path again, they are the prime targets and must be taken down as early as possible. Next up is the difficult to find beers, they aren’t quite rarities, but who knows when you’ll next get the chance to drink them? Typically international in origin they can often be found hiding in bottles, identify and move in for the kill.

At this point you can start to relax, the pressure is off, the difficult work is done. Move on to anything pale, hoppy and lower in strength. Slow and steady wins the race, this is a marathon not a sprint, take your time and stoically work through the task one beer after another.

Now it’s time to sort the men from the boys. You’ve had a good time, you’ve had some great beer, but quitting isn’t an option. Your last hurdle is the dark and strong beer. Throw everything you’ve got at it, join forces with those around you and take them on as a tag team if you must. Do whatever it takes, you’ve got a whole year to regret it if you don’t!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Odell Brewing Co. at The White Horse

It’s 1989 and we’re in a 75 year old grain elevator. The team of Doug Odell and his sister Corkie are hard at work brewing beer. What started as a kitchen hobby has become a profession, fuelled by self-belief and a passion for great beer Odell Brewing Co. is conceived in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Fast forward to 2010 and we’re in an awkwardly shaped room on the first floor. Origami skills are being put into practice, desperately turning menus into emergency fans. Extra buttons are being unfastened, windows opened and jackets removed. It’s hot, very hot, but beer is on the way. In one corner stands Doug Odell, he’s fighting with a laptop and projector, watched eagerly by an audience of beer lovers, makers and critics. We’re gathered to sample Doug’s beer and to toast its launch in England.

Our first beer is Easy Street Wheat. American Wheat Beer is a style I really struggle with. Devoid of the ester driven fruit, bubblegum, clove and banana of their German ancestors, I find them a bit plain and boring. Unfortunately Easy Street doesn’t go anywhere towards changing that opinion. Served with tempura prawns, it was nice, but nothing more than that. People around me appeared to enjoy it, going back for seconds when the opportunity arose, maybe it’s just me?

90 Shilling Ale was full of brown bread crust, treacle and some subtle black coffee. Fresh with a gentle sweetness at first and a slight tartness in the finish. As it warms some subtle hop comes to the fore, bringing woodyness and spice.

5 Barrel Pale Ale is named after the size of the test brewery at Odell. It kicked things on with some gentle hopping. Doug Odell is a real fan of UK brewing and as a result picked Fuggles and Goldings to use alongside the American Willamette hop in this beer. The fact that it's the third best selling Odell beer is testament to how incredibly drinkable it is. Poured with delicately spiced Cajun chicken; the hops amplified the chilli heat and brought cleansing bitterness after the swallow.

If the 5 Barrel is the quite kid at school whose home work you copy, Odell IPA is the hyperactive brat that's screamy and shouty, desperate for the teacher's attention at all times. The body is thicker and fuller than any of the other beers we tried. There's melon, pithy grapefruit bitterness and floral orange in abundance. Delicious, and more than a match for the fiery lamb curry it was paired with.

A step back down from the IPA brings St. Lupulin. Lemon sherbet hops, a strong malty backbone of biscuit and honey, a delicate bitterness that catches you by surprise. Bags of hop flavour and a lack of punishing bitterness make this stunningly drinkable. My favourite beer of the night and delicious with citrus ginger nut cheese cake.

To finish the night off, a classic combination. Porter and chocolate. Tonight it's Cuthroat Porter and chocolate tart. The beer is all coffee and roasty malt, it rips the bitter chocolate flavour out of the dessert kicking and screaming, then the lightness of the beer clears it all away. Lovely.

Some great beer and some great food. Hopefully this launch will see us UK beer lovers finding it easier to get hold of Odell beers on home turf. The St Lupulin is an outstanding beer, perfect for summer and something I could drink a lot of. Fingers crossed.

Thanks to Dan from The White Horse for the invitation. If you've never been to The White Horse on Parson's green ... get yourself there ASAP.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Birmingham & The Wellington

Birmingham, a city punctuated by shopping centres. Loads of them, all with a different name. The Bulling, The Pallasades, Priory Square, Pavilions, those Brummies love a shopping centre. At times it’s welcoming and homely, the hustle and bustle, the tall buildings, you’d be excused for thinking it’s London. But turn a corner and it’s open, spread out, nothing like a city at all. And where’s all the traffic; people must be getting to these shopping centres somehow.

During my brief trip I managed to sneak in a few places and a few beers. The thing most worth talking about is a pub called The Wellington.

Just off Victoria Square on Bennetts Hill, you’d easily walk past it without noticing. Inside we’re immediately greeted by an epically long bar, adorned with sixteen hand pumps and two smiley barmen. Plasma screens proudly present PowerPoint slides with the current offering on them. Beers listed by brewery, name and strength; the tagline warning you to “please order by pump number”. Fifteen of the sixteen are on, I decide to stay local and go with a half of Purity Mad Goose and half a, not so local, Wye Valley HPA. Hungry from a morning spent walking about town, I ask for a food menu to be told that “no food is served here” but “feel free to bring your own”. The barman confirms this by pointing at the large sign I walked right past, the large sign that says “Bring your own food”. Damn.

The pub is an odd shape, ends flaring out into seating areas with a pinch point in the middle where the bar is. There’s a dart board in one corner and beer festival posters are littered about the place. We spot an empty table near the window and make a move for it. A shelf behind me houses all manner of beer related books; I pick up Michael Jackson’s "New World Guide to Beer" as I notice a guy walk past me with a Brooklyn Brewery shirt on. As I flick through the pages I can hear the barman waxing lyrical to a customer about the fantastic beer he had last night. I slouch down into the chair. This place is fantastic I think to myself.

The Mad Goose is hard going, a mineral quality and a big bitterness to it. The HPA is better, softer, ale-yeast-fruit and some floral hop. Two pumps have changed by the time we finish our round. Feeling the pull of that beery bubble, we consider staying all evening, spending our time moving from one pump to another, soaking up the beer love that seems to fuel the place.

If you’re in town, it’s well worth a visit. A pub where beer is king; they really have got it spot on.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

SIBA South East Festival - Judging Beer

“If you can see, smell and taste beer, then you’re qualified enough to be a judge” decrees Julian Grocock the CEO of SIBA, as we settle down at round tables with neat little lines of upturned glasses in front of us. The morning sun is shining outside and a cool breeze is blowing through the temporary marquee that houses us. Two long rows of casks span one side of the makeshift room, veiled under cooling blankets they conceal their identities like bank robbers. A detective for the day; it’s my task to command this most delicious of identity parades and split these suspects out into mere foils and actual perpetrators. Some of these beers are guilty of being the best in their region and I’m not about to let them slip through the net, not on my watch.

Appearance first. I want clarity, a head that laces and lingers, subtle carbonation and signs of life. The aroma needs to tease and tantalise, a precis of what’s to come, it must be fresh and vibrant, hoppy, fruity and malty. Taste is personal but off-flavours are universal, we’ll have none of those. I want to drink a beer and be both pleased and intrigued, above all it must make me come back for more.

One by one the inspection is carried out, the same sequence each time, mechanical on the surface but deeply considered beneath. Lift to the light, swirl, smell, taste and score. No time at all passes and the job is done, decision made, judgment cast.

It’s the SIBA South East Beer Festival 2010 and, on this occasion, the offender is easily ousted. Oakleaf Hole Hearted is head and shoulders above the rest. It’s golden, new-penny-bright and peppered with just the right carbonation. It’s toffee sweetness, floral-citrus hop and crisp, refreshing bitterness. Case closed.

Thanks to Eddie for the invitation to come and judge; a great day and an excuse to drink and talk beer with like minded people. Good to see Evin at The Kernel Brewery take four awards in the bottled beer category. The best beer I judged was the Hole Hearted but overall winner on the day was Westerham Audit Ale.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Beef Kofte with Flat Bread

I love beer, I love food, I love beer and food together but I don't write about them enough. I'm always testing out new recipes at home, experimenting with flavours, trying different beers with different foods but rarely does anything make it onto these virtual pages. Take this as a statement of intent then, an intention to blog more about the cooking I do, the dishes I make and the beers I eat them with.

Flat breads are something I make a lot. Sometimes because they're quick and easy, always because they're delicious, more often than not because there isn't any fresh bread in the flat. My method involves flavouring flour with things that take my fancy: dried herbs, fresh herbs, garlic, spices, tomato puree etc and then combining it with enough water to make a dough. You then roll out 3mm (ish) thick circles and drop them into a dry, heavy-bottomed frying pan. Leave for 2 minutes, turn, leave for 2 minutes, done. Easy as that.

Koftes are a favourite filling for flat breads. Although traditionally made with Lamb; I prefer to use minced beef and it works just as well. Take your beef mince and add roughly one egg yolk per 250g, fresh coriander, salt, pepper and/or whatever you decide might be good. Mix thoroughly and then, with your hands, form sausage shapes around metal Kebab skewers. Cook on a hot griddle pan with quarter turns every few minutes.

Stuff your flat bread with the meat, shredded red cabbage, cucumber, some finely sliced chili and a generous drizzle of yoghurt or soured cream. Delicious. Mark Dredge places his stake firmly in camp Mythos, but what beer would you pair with this?

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Thornbridge Halcyon

Dear reader, your time is precious, I know. I won’t waste it for long because Mark “Pencil & Spoon” Dredge has already said everything I want to say (here). I’m late to the party in saying this, but it must be said … again. Thornbridge Halcyon 2009 is un-bloody-believable!

In the glass it almost has a glow to it, as if to say: “look at me! I’m over here! Quick, look, over here!”. The aroma is so bright and fruity, Dredgey nails it when he describes it as “fruit salad sweets”. Sitting there on the worktop, like a Roman candle. Hops spilling and fizzing over the sides of the glass, shaking their jazz hands before vanishing into the ether.

The flavour is less citrus and more pale stone fruits. It’s brewed with fresh, as apposed to the more traditional dry, UK Target hops and what a plethora of vibrant, fresh, tropical fruit flavours they bring to the party. Why aren’t Targets used as a late hop more often? Based on this, they’re being criminally overlooked.

There’s sweetness and a nice punchy, cleansing bitterness. There's a lot of yeast in suspension but it just serves to make the body thick and full.

Simply outstanding. I got mine from the ever excellent mybrewerytap.com and you should too! Seriously … just do it, this is probably the best English beer I’ve had this year.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Brew Wharf - Hopfather

What I have to say about this beer is largely irrelevant. How many pubs in London can you walk into and order a decent pint that was brewed within ten metres of where you stand? Not many, that's how many! For this reason alone, Brew Wharf is worth a visit, and your support. The fact that the beer is not only good but also heavily inspired by modern classics from the USA, that you simply cannot get hold of in this country, adds further weight to the argument.

Hopfather takes its inspiration from Blind Pig IPA, a well known beer brewed by Russian River in California. It's pale, golden and 6.1 per cent. The aroma bursts forth with masses of citrus-laden US hops. Amarillo, Chinook, Centennial. Grapefruit, orange, lemon. On the palate it's surprisingly light. The hops envelope your whole mouth, delivering the citrus hit you expect and a real pithiness too. In the finish a biscuity, grainy malt character briefly surfaces before being beaten into submission by a dry, intense, building bitterness.

Being hypercritical, I don't think this style of beer suits cask dispense. The extra chill and fizz of a keg would help lift this beer, making it easier to drink and more refreshing. You could argue that the body is slightly thin, the finish slightly dry and the bitterness right on the bounds of 'too much'. You'd be nitpicking though; minor points which far from distract from the overall enjoyment of the beer.

From Brew Wharf I hit a couple more local pubs. All had cask ale, all had 4 per cent brown beer, all had seasonal blondes. Boring. Hopfather is big, bold, punchy and full of flavour. It's exactly the type of beer I want to be drinking and I wish there were more like it.

It won't last long; your best bet is to get down there and check it out! Oh yeah ... and drink it with the Pomme Frites that they serve with Ketchup and Mayonnaise. Delicious.

Friday, 9 July 2010

World Cup Beer Sweepstake - Australia

In the World Cup Beer Sweepstake I drew Australia. I’m not really sure how to feel about this. I’m a Cricket fan and when it comes to Cricket the Aussies are a dominant force, they’re the old foe, the team we must beat. When England plays Australia it’s a big deal, it’s the test series that players dream about being part of, it’s an event, it’s historic.

Australian football though? It just isn’t the same; nobody seems to take it that seriously. The Socceroos, right? Little chance of progressing beyond the group stage; they’re minnows in shark infested water.

My opinion of Australian football is similar to my opinion of Australia beer. It’s there, it exists, but it isn’t something you rush out for. You may happen to see the odd Australian game, you might happen to have the odd can of Foster’s, neither are likely to be very memorable.

Through fear of unwittingly insulting an entire nation, let me qualify: what I’m trying to say is that when it comes to great beer, and great football, Australia isn’t the first country that springs to mind.

I picked Tooheys draught lager as my Sweepstake beer. It’s brewed in Australia, imported (as far as my research tells me) and it’s pretty easy to find at the Walkabout chain of pubs. Lurking at the back of my mind was a desire for the beer to be great, for it to be interesting and full of flavour, for it prove me wrong. Sadly not.

I drew Australia as my Sweepstake team. They got hammered 4-0 by Germany in their opening game, drew with Ghana and only managed to beat Serbia 2-1 in a match that proved ultimately meaningless. Lurking at the back of my mind was a desire for them to pull off an upset, to do something spectacular, to prove me wrong. Sadly not.

The general apathy I described feeling towards Australian football is equally applicable to all of the Australians beers I’ve tried. It could be that the good beers don’t make it to the UK, it could be ignorance on my part, it could be that Australia does a lot of things really well … just not beer or football.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

London Brewers Alliance

Phil Lowry is a man who’s not content with being the managing director of premier beer retailer beermerchants.com and part time brewer under the Saints and Sinners banner. Disillusioned with the public’s apparent apathy towards London’s brewers and beer; he’s on a mission to make a change. Inspired by the cohesive and collaborative nature of the brewing scene in San Francisco, he wants to bring the capital’s beer makers together. Together in a group that can share, assist and focus effort on restoring London as a centre of brewing excellence.

Beer enthusiasts will likely already know that London is undergoing something of a beer renaissance. The London beer scene is thriving and it’s about time the wider world knew about it. New professional breweries like Redemption, Kernel, Brew Wharf, Brodie's and Camden are accompanied by a home brewing scene that goes from strength to strength.

Its early days for the London Brewers Alliance, but there’s no questioning the enthusiasm, passion and the appetite for great beer that’s the driving force behind it. Fingers crossed for great things.

This entry was inspired by an article in The Publican. You can read that article here.

The London Brewers Alliance can be found online at http://londonbrewers.org/ and on Twitter @londonbrewers.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Ale of Thanet - Beer and Barbecue

"Ale of Thanet" is a free publication produced by the Thanet branch of CAMRA. It's released quarterly around the Thanet area and covers beer and pub news, opinion, local events etc. I've written an article for the latest edition about Summer beers and barbecue foods to pair them with.

You can download a PDF version here. The article I wrote starts on page 20.

My intention was to suggest some good bottled beer that's easy to get hold of and lends itself to Summer drinking. In food terms July and August are all about long evenings and barbecues, so it seemed like an obvious match for the beer.

What are your favourite beers to drink with a barbecue? Comments on the article are more than welcome.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Half Century Pale

This beer has now been in the keg for a week. Fermentation took about a day to start but was steady for around four days following that. As planned I attempted to control temperature with ice packs. The ambient temperature being around 21c, I wanted to lower that to below 19c. Ice packs are hardly an exact science and don’t provide a solution that’s repeatable, but I don’t have space for a fermentation chamber so you have to make do with what you’ve got. As far as maintaining a steady(ish), sub 19c environment for the yeast goes, I think I succeeded.

The final gravity hit 1006 which is really very low for beers I make, the lowest I’ve ever had in fact. With an original gravity of 1045, this gives me a beer that’s around 5.3 per cent alcohol.

Pulling a small sample from the keg revealed a very green beer - obviously. More importantly though, it’s pretty good! There’s a very subtle hop presence which is only detectable if you know what to look for and the bitterness is crisp but delicate. Considering the low final gravity, it’s not dry at all. There’s a distinct malt character that reminds me of honey and, more specifically, honeycomb; something that I’m assuming must come from the Optic Pale Malt.

Importantly, there’s no yeast-driven fruitiness to speak of at all. This flavour is typically produced by ale yeasts when they’re allowed to ferment towards the warmer end of their temperature range. The fact that the beer is missing this element suggests that the temperature control technique I used appears to have worked. Readers of the brew day blog post will know that I also aerated this beer before pitching yeast, it’s entirely possible that I reduced ‘stress’ on the yeast by doing this, helping further to reduce any fruitiness.

As well as tasting too young, there’s still a lingering haze to the beer’s appearance. But with over three weeks until it’s needed, there’s plenty of maturation time for this to be resolved. Optimistic that this will turn out quite well.